How To Have A Tolerable Divorce Part 4: PAPERWORK!

Filing the divorce paperwork wasn't that bad. Here's how I did it.
Publish date:
October 16, 2013
breakups, divorce

A marriage license in the state of Oregon costs $60, takes 10 minutes, and becomes valid after two days. Filing for divorce costs $260 (not including attorney fees, if you need one), costs several hours at the courthouse to just file the damn thing, then takes at least a month to get signed by a judge.

One sucky thing about being the first in a group of friends to get a divorce is having to figure it out for myself. I cannot give legal advice but I CAN give friendly tips about the process, which is convoluted and totally overwhelming but not as bad as I had expected. Here we go!

As previously mentioned, my ex-husband and I were married for two years before throwing in the towel. We owned a house together, but aside from the stuff in the house and a checking account, we did not have any other shared assets, thanks to some obnoxious (and wise) over-planning on my part.

My ex and I entered into our marriage with zero debt and comparable incomes so we did not get a pre-nup, although I did consider it. My father had died earlier that year (planning a wedding while grieving your beloved father is a story I’ll save for another day) and I’d inherited a not-life-changing-but-not-insignificant chunk of change. I came into the money when only engaged and did not list my then-fiancé as the beneficiary -- I listed my brother.

I had done my research: Oregon is not a shared property state, meaning that my assets prior to our marriage would legally remain mine in the case of divorce. In some states, everything becomes a shared asset at the time of marriage, so he would have been legally entitled to half of that scratch. Had that been our situation, I would have insisted on a pre-nup. Even if you think it’s going to last, check the laws in your state!

It’s so sterile, isn’t it? These thoughts about money? I did not enjoy doing it, but I really did not want to ever fight over the money I’d inherited following the devastating loss of my father. It was my grief, and it was my money. Period.

Anyway, sorting the house was the biggest challenge in terms of asset division. We had a decision to make about the paperwork: Do we file for divorce right away, and write into our divorce agreement that we will sell the house within x amount of days, or do we sell first, and divorce after? I opted for the latter, the reason being that even if a judge requires a liquidation of assets within a certain timeframe, it was up to us to make that happen, and if he did not cooperate, I’d have to take him to court.

I was not super confident in my ex’s willingness to work with me in a timely manner, and I did not want to deal with a prolonged legal battle. We decided that selling our house prior to divorcing would make things simpler.

And it did. Once the house sold (quickly, thank God, because the Portland housing market is insane right now), we divided our profits down the middle, he paid me back for a few expenses, and poof, no financial negotiations to write into our divorce.

While I was super on the ball to split stuff up and sell the house, I dilly-dallied on filing the actual paperwork. I can’t say why, aside from laziness. I got a cute new apartment, I paid off my car with my share of the house money, and I moved on with my life with my cat and my dog from a new address. I felt like getting out of our house was the biggest hurdle to feeling like a single woman again, and that happened. I was financially and physically free, and the paperwork was just that: papers.

Well, not quite. My ex-husband had some issues, and it became clear to me after a few months of ignorant bliss in my girly apartment that there were consequences to remaining married. Not to mention that I had a new boyfriend who wasn’t so into dating a married woman.

Since we did not have children and had already divided up our money and stuff, I decided to forge ahead with the court stuff without a lawyer. Also, we did an uncontested divorce. That meant that we both agreed to everything, and we waived a hearing. There wasn’t really anything to fight over (except our dog, which only became a problem later).

It was daunting to tackle all of the forms myself, but it was nice to not spend thousands of dollars in legal fees. (Seriously -- people with children and messy divorces can easily spend upward of 20k on attorneys. Plan your life accordingly.)

Thankfully, the process of divorcing was not as difficult as I feared. I took a morning off work and went to the Multnomah County Courthouse. I’d already found the forms I thought I needed from the Internet (and a thousand divorce forums and books) and carried them in with me. A brisk clerk told me quickly that I was wrong, handed me a new stack, and I sat in the corner to fill them out.

My ex didn’t have to do anything at the time of filing, he just had to sign something in front of a notary after to confirm he got a copy of the papers and was cool with everything.

It got a little messy when he didn’t show up at our signing appointment. If he wouldn’t meet up with me, I would have to have a sheriff serve him. Once I told him that I would involve law enforcement if necessary, he came around. He showed up at our second appointment and signed everything.

Once I had his signature I could turn everything into the court, and pay the filing fee of $260. (Legally, he owes me half of that, but I am not about to chase him down for $130. Not dealing with him anymore is worth at least that much.)

After it was filed, I relaxed. The court told me it would take up to 90 days. If it had been a contested divorce -- the kind with lawyers and mediators and hearings -- it would have taken longer. But since we had waived all of that we could just wait, and hope the judge was satisfied with what we’d submitted.

And the judge was! The day after my 31st birthday I received a letter from the county confirming that our divorce had been finalized. And that was that. I am legally a Jones again, not Jones/hyphen/him, although some of my stuff still says that. (I had JUST finished getting all new cards in my married name. Annoying!)

Now that it’s all said and done, would I have done anything differently? No, not in how we divorced. That was relatively smooth. If I could change anything, we wouldn’t have gotten married in the first place.

My ex and I are not of the old school. We lived together before we got married, and nobody cared. I am a goddamn feminist! I didn’t feel a social obligation to become a wife! We arrived at the decision to get married because we wanted to put a bow on our relationship. We wanted to celebrate it in front of our friends and families. It was a fun wedding, sure, but in hindsight, it wasn’t necessary. It made the detangling of our lives harder. I don’t regret our relationship, but the marriage: yeah, kinda.

I doubt I’ll get remarried. I don’t want to do all of this again. I’ve learned things, and I’m sure a second marriage (and second divorce) would be easier, but I am over it. Marriage just is not my scene. And not like, I’m too cool for all that, but this: My faith in love and in my own judgment got royally fucked up by this divorce. I cannot imagine ever feeling secure enough in a relationship to try again.

That’s sad, isn’t it? I never wanted to be cynical about love, but here we are. Happy and moving on, but a little harder around the edges. Oh well.

Anyway, I guess I’ve said what I wanted to say. It has been cathartic to share the difficulties of getting a divorce at an age when most of your friends are still working on finding somebody to settle down with. I’ve been so touched and humbled by many comments that started with “I relate to this because--“

My goal of this series has been to making other young women feel less alone, weird, or ostracized for getting out of a marriage, and all of you have done that for me.